Last summer a friend let me borrow a book that was garnering much attention on bestseller lists. Reviews said that some critics were expressing doubts about whether the book’s white author could authentically give voice to the African American dialect. Millions of copies and a highly anticipated August 2011 movie release date later, Kathryn Stockett’s The Help proved that the writer was, in fact, very successful in her attempt.
But The Help is fiction. What about real stories? Can an editor be accused of forced stereotyping when an African American writer expresses himself in his own dialect in a non-fiction work? That’s a question for those far smarter than this middle class white chick. All I know is that I loved the book, Same Kind of Different as Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore. (I borrowed it from another friend. Where would my literary life be without my friends?)
Same Kind of Different As Me is the story of two men: Ron, a wealthy white international art dealer and Denver, a black former Louisiana sharecropper, hardened and homeless. They are brought together by Ron’s wife, Debbie, a woman who is determined to share the love of Jesus in very tangible ways. She makes the Union Gospel Mission in inner-city Ft. Worth, Texas, her personal mission field, and she drags Ron along and Denver into her “we-can-make-this-work” world.
Through most of the story, Ron and Denver alternate chapters, each telling his side of the story in his own voice, and by that I mean that Ron “sounds white” and Denver “sounds black.” Thus my earlier comment about “forced stereotyping.” In my opinion, dialect is secondary here. These men openly share their own backgrounds, as well as their preconceived notions of one another and the worlds from which each appears to have come. Of course, as the book’s title reveals, they ultimately learn how much they have in common.
This story is tremendously moving. I had a lump in my throat almost continuously as I was reading it. It’s hard for me to imagine how any non-homeless reader could come away from this story not asking, “What should I be doing to help the needy?” It’s even more wrenching to think of an actual homeless person reading this story. It’s likely they might very well come away wondering, “Where is my Ron or Debbie Hall?” Perhaps he or she is reading (or writing) this review.